Mitt Romney, a Senate Republican candidate for Utah, had harsh words for the decision to have Dr. Robert Jeffress, who is the head of Dallas’s First Baptist Church as well as a Fox News contributor, deliver a blessing at today's opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Romney decried Jeffress as a "religious bigot" who has shared anti-Semitic and anti-Mormon views. Romney himself is a Mormon.
“Robert Jeffress says ‘you can’t be saved by being a Jew,’ and ‘Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell,’” Romney, who is Mormon, wrote on Twitter Sunday night. “He’s said the same about Islam. Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.”
The tweet below quickly garnered the attention of news outlets.
Robert Jeffress says “you can’t be saved by being a Jew,“ and “Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.” He’s s… https://t.co/wwylmlryQN— Mitt Romney (@Mitt Romney) 1526262144.0
Andrea Mitchell, NBC News' Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, reached out to the State Department.
"Jeffress speaking at this event? Have they no shame? Anti Semitic, anti Mormon..anti Muslim...can anyone
@StateDept explain?" she asked.
Jeffress speaking at this event? Have they no shame? Anti Semitic, anti Mormon..anti Muslim...can anyone @StateDept… https://t.co/ClwlIu365r— Andrea Mitchell (@Andrea Mitchell) 1526269970.0
CNN anchor and correspondent Ana Cabrera also addressed the controversy, sharing a series of clips in which Jeffress can be seen and heard decrying Judaism, Mormonism, and Islam.
Cabrera also spoke with Norm Eisen, the board chair for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Eisen, a former United States Ambassador to the Czech Republic, said he "can't imagine a worse spokesman" for President Trump's administration.
“I can’t imagine a worse spokesman in this already tense, volatile situation than Dr. Jeffress. Bad choice!” --… https://t.co/MqyBS4J6fO— Ana Cabrera (@Ana Cabrera) 1526251773.0
"As somebody who was trained in diplomacy school, I can't imagine a worse spokesman in this already tense, volatile situation," Eisen said.
Trump's decision, announced last year, to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem raised global concerns that the administration had weakened the chances for a regional peace agreement between Israeli leaders, who have long considered Jerusalem their capital, and Palestinians, for whom the status of Jerusalem is a point of contention.
Jerusalem, Eisen noted, is "a city of multiple religions, where Jews, Muslims, Christians all come together and with his [Jeffress'] negative statements about some branches of Christianity and about Islam, he's the wrong man. An already challenging situation is made much worse by having him there."
Jeffress later took to Twitter to defend his position, insisting that they are rooted in personal faith rather than bigotry.
Historic Christianity has taught for 2,000 years that salvation is through faith in Christ alone. The fact that I,… https://t.co/8oWGim2YWg— Dr. Robert Jeffress (@Dr. Robert Jeffress) 1526265969.0
Jeffress also spoke with reporters, to whom he denied charges of bigotry but espoused his belief that Mormonism is "wrong" and that it had been designated a "cult" by the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Mormonism has never been considered a part of historic Christianity. People may disagree with that view, but it’s not a view unique to me,” Jeffress said.
The White House has not yet commented on the controversy.
The ceremony, which took place this morning, came after at least 41 people were killed during clashes along the border between Israel and Gaza. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner called for unity at the opening of the new embassy:
We believe, it is possible for both sides to gain more than they give -- so that all people can live in peace -- safe from danger, free from fear, and able to pursue their dreams. Jerusalem must remain a city that brings people of all faiths together.
While presidents before him have backed down from their pledge to move the American Embassy once they were in office, this President delivered. Because when President Trump makes a promise, he keeps it.
The controversial Jeffress, who is an evangelical adviser to President Trump, made headlines in March after he weighed in on the scandal surrounding the president over his connection to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford. (Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, received a payment of $130,000 from Trump attorney Michael Cohen as part of the non-disclosure agreement to keep her from discussing a sexual encounter with Trump back in 2006, while he was married to his current wife, Melania, and just a few months after Melania gave birth to their son, Barron. The payment has sparked a debate over whether or not Cohen, in making it, broke campaign finance laws.)
“Evangelicals still believe in the commandment: Thou shalt not have sex with a porn star. However, whether this president violated that commandment or not is totally irrelevant to our support of him,” Jeffress said at the time.
He added: "Evangelicals knew they weren’t voting for an altar boy when they voted for Donald Trump. We supported him because of his policies and his strong leadership.”
When questioned, Jeffress said evangelicals “understand” the concept of forgiveness:
Evangelicals understand the concept of sin and forgiveness. Look, we are all sinners, we all need forgiveness, that forgiveness is available through Christ for anyone that asks. Whether the president needs that forgiveness for this particular allegation, and whether he asked for it is between him, his family, and his God.
Trump’s behavior is not a deterrent, continued Jeffress, suggesting there’s pretty much nothing Trump can do to lose his support as long as he continues to deliver on his policies.
“I‘m his friend,” he said. “I will never walk away.”